Cho Lay Mar is a tireless advocate for internally displaced minority women in her native Myanmar (also known as Burma). Although decades of internal conflict have ended, and the country now has a democratically elected government, displaced women have very hard lives, Cho Lay Mar says.
Cho Lay Mar’s father was Pakistani, and she grew up aware of her “mixed blood.” She strongly believes people are the same. “I am always concerned with how we can live harmoniously,” she says. After she graduated, Cho Lay Mar became a teacher in a government school, where she imparted the idea of peaceful co-existence to her ethnically diverse students.
She became aware of the unique difficulties facing minority women in her country, particularly those in Rakhine State, who are constrained by their community’s social norms and by restrictions on their freedom under the military government. Many of these women are stateless, and have no rights. Cho Lay Mar became an advocate to ensure that social services were available to these communities, particularly for the women.
Now a program officer at Community and Family Services International, she feels strongly that girls should have the opportunity to go to secondary school. She has to convince parents, however, who worry about their daughters when they are exposed to different cultures and beliefs. “This is common all over the world,” Cho Lay Mar says.
Despite tensions from the long history of conflict, Cho Lay Mar and her organization have laid groundwork for inter-ethnic understanding. When conflict erupted in Myanmar in 2012, the areas where she works were less volatile than most.
Her ability to build positive relationships with her government and her commitment to peace and diplomacy distinguish Cho Lay Mar as a true voice of courage.
Come and meet Cho Lay Mar and hear more of her story at the April 21st Voices of Courage Awards Luncheon.